GMAT Quantitative Section: What’s Mathematical Thinking?

February 28, 2013


What should you expect when you take the GMAT Quantitative section? Math, right? However, Mike McGarry at Magoosh asks a very important question: “What exactly is math?”

McGarry tells us, “Strange as it may seem, there is no generally accepted formal definition of the word mathematics.  Most of the dictionary definitions, for example, cover the more familiar branches of mathematics, but not, say, typical Ph.D. dissertation topics in math.”

He points out two aspects of math that might be tested on the GMAT Quantitative section. One aspect deals with “logics”–deductions and reasoning. The other aspect deals with abstract patterns and the ability to recognize them.

For the first, you really understand a mathematic topic when you understand all the logical connections —- for example, knowing not just the rule for adding fractions, but understanding why fractions have to be added that way.   The second is relevant because several out-of-the-box GMAT questions will throw some new situation at you, and you will have to identify what is the best way to parse the situation into recognizable components.   Perhaps even more important is understanding what math is not.

McGarry encourages the GMAT Quantitative test taker to realize that, while it is definitely important to know your math facts, “math facts are not the same as mathematics” and to really pay attention to the logic behind questions and their answers:

When you read the solutions to a problem that baffled you, pay attention to (a) the logic of the argument connecting one step to the next — not just the math factoids, but the strategies employed, and (b) the patterns the solution points out and employs.   Any logic that is new to you or any patterns you didn’t see on your own — make a note of these, and return to them until you are confident you would be able to use these in the solution of a new problem on your own.

If an MBA in Virginia is in your future and you’re struggling on the GMAT quantitative section, check out the rest of McGarry’s post as well as ours on GMAT preparation!

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